How to Use Emotion in Presentations

The definition of emotion is a rather dubious one: “an affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced.” In short, emotion is how we feel, whether that is anger, fear, sadness, happiness, anxiety, guilt, shame or jealousy. Emotion is complicated, and sometimes given a bad rap. The word ‘emotional’ has a myriad of negative connotations associated with it; usually it’s a sign of weakness or lack of self-control. However, humans are a fundamentally emotional species. We laugh, we cry, we smile, we seethe and we emphasize. The use of emotion should be thoughtfully considered when preparing a presentation. When used correctly, it can significantly strengthen a presentation’s message.

It’s important to first consider the audience to whom your presentation is directed. What is the overall demeanor of the audience? Is the setting serious or lighthearted? How would they react to displays of emotion? It’s imperative to put yourself in the shoes of your audience. How would they react to an emotional story? Would they be turned off, or would they be enthusiastic? Keep the audience at the forefront of your mine. Their needs are your priority. Remember Jerry Weissman’s words: “For people to act on anything, they must have a reason to act and it must be their reason, not yours.” Filter any show of emotion through the question of ‘Will this benefit my audience?’ If the answer is no, take it out.

The best way to use emotion in your presentation is through the stories you tell. Tell stories that spark emotion, that create excitement and anticipation. Compel your audience to feel connected to you by choosing stories that are revealing about yourself. If you’re giving a presentation on diabetes, for example, it’s very compelling to reveal that you yourself have diabetes, or a member of your family has it. Emotion should play a role in a story like that, though be sure to remain humble and composed during such stories. Try to find a happy medium between appearing too emotional, almost coming undone, and appearing too stoic, as if nothing would pierce your armor.

Of course, it’s important to avoid being overly emotional when telling stories. Indeed, that’s one of the quickest ways to alienate your audience and leave them squirming in their seats. It’s also easy to lose your flow and composure if the topic is too emotional. Know what you want to convey with that show of emotion before you include it in your presentation, and practice, practice, practice beforehand so you know the delivery like the back of your hand.

Another component to consider when using emotion is the design of your presentation’s accompanying deck. As always, your slide deck should reflect the look and feel of your presentation’s main idea in general, but if you want to use emotion to compel your audience make sure that’s reflected in your deck, too. What are the best visuals to accompany your story? How do those visuals make the audience feel? Which colors spark the emotion you are attempting to evoke? What emotion does that particular font impart? Consider these questions when crafting your deck. They may seem inconsequential, but those small elements streamline your overarching idea and help to communicate emotion in subtle ways that as a whole strengthens and nuances your presentation.

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